Anthony Newley, autumn, Beatles, Dan Faehnle, Dexter Gordon, ella fitzgerald, Gershwins, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards, Kenny Rankin, Leslie Bricusse, musical send-up, Sacha Distel, the jazz gene, Till Bronner
One of my favorite things, Jazz Babies, along with blue satin sashes and brown paper packages tied up with string, is the thrill of finding a new name (new to me) in the musical “great” list I’ve been keeping since I was about eight years old.
When you come from a family that loves jazz, you learn early on that jazz is, as Louis sang, “the most from coast to coast.” And you love it. Other kids may be playing the latest pop ditty, but if you grow up with jazz and there’s jazz to be heard, that’s where you are.
I love all kinds of music, but it’s jazz that will stop me in my tracks wherever I happen to be. I’ve danced in the aisles of more than one store and an elevator or two cool enough to opt for jazz instead of Muzak.
The new name on my list is Till Brönner, a young man with a horn, more specifically a jazz trumpet, and I’ll be honest, the first time I heard him, Brönner knocked me flat. I know from trumpeters. I was married to one and then when I worked for a big city symphony orchestra and took the orchestra out on a few road trips, I was warned about the trumpet players. You can figure that one out yourselves. Lots of ego goes into that horn. For myself, I never thought I’d like any trumpeter as much as I like Chet Baker, but Till Brönner is my new go-to guy. He was influenced by Baker, of course, and inspired by Dizzy Gillespie and Freddie Hubbard as well. Over the years he’s worked with musicians ranging from Dave Brubeck, James Moody and Monty Alexander to Natalie Cole, Ray Brown, Nils Lindgren and Johnny Griffin. Here he is with a lovely take on the Sacha Distel tune, “The Good Life” from his 2016 album by the same name. Brönner is joined by Anthony Wilson on guitar, Larry Goldings on piano, John Clayton on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jy2kD14tMEo
I first heard Kenny Rankin on his Silver Morning album, which didn’t quite fit my idea of jazz although I did like his voice and the songs, especially the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” Rankin’s version of this one is especially haunting. Paul McCartney was so impressed, he asked Rankin to perform his interpretation when McCartney and Lennon were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. A little Rankin trivia: Rankin was fairly young when he was signed by Decca Records. He played guitar on Bob Dylan’s 1965 album, Bringing It All Back Home, and was a favorite of Johnny Carson. Rankin was invited to perform more than twenty times on the Tonight! show, and Carson wrote the cover notes for one of Rankin’s albums. Through it all, however, Rankin most loved jazz and played and sang it whenever he could. This tune, “When Sunny Gets Blue,” has a special spot in my heart as it was the first jazz tune I wanted to learn when I took guitar lessons from John LaChappelle back in the day. And when I heard Kenny Rankin’s take on it, I was sold. See what you think, JazzBabies. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrt8Y-F3U14
I think everything that can be written about Ella Fitzgerald has been written, so I’m just going to say here she is with the wonderful Gershwin tune, ”Someone to Watch Over Me.” This one was written by the Gershwins for the 1926 musical Oh, Kay! In other words, this song is ninety years old and I have to say, we should all be in such great shape when we reach our nineties. George wrote the melody originally as an uptempo jazz tune, but Ira thought it would work better as a ballad. We thank you, Ira, again and again and again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYEeAOTIQ2c
Mining the world of musical comedies has provided rich pickings for the jazz world. This next one comes from the 1965 Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley British musical The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd, a musical I’ve loved for all those years. The tune is “Who Can I Turn To?” and the leader is Dexter Gordon. This is from his 1965 Getting’ Around album with Bob Cranshaw on bass, Barry Harris on piano, Bobby Hutcherson on vibes and Billy Higgins on drums. Gordon puts a heartbreaking spin on this one and it’s cooler than a London mist in January. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88NBnD7Z0dE
I thought long and hard, JazzBabies, before adding this next tune to our collection today. It’s not so much a tune as it is, well, I’ll let you be the judge of what it is. Back in the 1950s, conductor/arranger Paul Weston and his wife, Jo Stafford, a vocalist in both the pops and jazz world, got together (perhaps over a bottle of French wine) and came up with a new duo, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards. Weston and Stafford were accomplished musicians. They’d have to be – it takes real talent to play and sing music this way. Jonathan and Darlene – well, not so much. But fun to listen to, and they won a Grammy in 1960 for Best Musical Comedy Album. So, to welcome the new season, I give you (forgive me) a jazz classic, “Autumn in New York,” as interpreted by Jonathan and Darlene Edwards. Eat your heart out, Meryl Streep. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Wtav01xd7I
Now, JazzBabies, let’s wrap up with something much more pleasant to get the shrieking out of your ears. I used to listen to this guy in Portland, Oregon, when we were all so much younger (although we’re all still cute). Dan Faehnle resides in Ohio now and is entertaining folks all over the country as guitar player for Pink Martini. One of the most interesting reviews of a musician that I’ve read comes from the Seattle Times regarding Faehnle: “Guitarist Dan Faehnle’s shapely, intelligent phrases spill from his guitar like the lines of a really good story.” Wow. This tune, “The Last Time I Saw You,” was written by bass player Ben Wolfe and is included on Faehnle’s 2003 Heavywood album, Ohio Lunch. Faehnle and Wolfe are joined by two other Portlanders – Steve Christofferson on piano and Ron Steen on drums. It’s a good one. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ah6atxIHkiQ
And that’s it for this time, JazzBabies. (I always hear some kind of theme music rising in the background as I write those words, possibly something by Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman).
Have a great week, stay cool in every way, be kind, and always, always keep your ear tuned for jazz.